Directed by Zhang Yimou
Producer: Thomas Tull, Charles Roven, Jon Jashni & Peter Loehr
Story: Max Brooks, Edward Zwick & Marshall Herskovitz
Star Cast:Matt Damon, Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe, Andy Lau
Release date: February 17, 2017 (United States)
Running time: 104 minutes
Country: United States & China
Language: English & Mandarin
Budget: $150 million
Box office: $203.5 million
Principal photography began on March 30, 2015, in Qingdao, China. The film was released in China on December 15, 2016, by Le Vision Pictures and China Film Group Corporation and is scheduled to be released in the United States on February 17, 2017, by Universal Pictures.
In the time of the Song dynasty during the reign of the Renzong Emperor, a few miles north of the Great Wall, William of England, Tovar of Spain, and three other survivors, two Italians and a Turk, from a Western mercenary group orginally consisting of twenty men searching for black powder are pursued by Khitan bandits, who have already killed the rest of them. Upon escaping they seek refuge in a cave but are then attacked by a shadowy monster, leaving only William and Tovar alive, the former having slashed off the monster's hand. The next day, they stumble upon the Great Wall and are taken prisoner by Chinese soldiers of a secretive military sect called the Nameless Order who are led by General Shao and Strategist Wang.
The Nameless Order is a Chinese military order commissioned by the Imperial Court of the Song Dynasty as a special division of the Imperial Army conceived for the sole purpose of repelling a horde of alien monsters whom the Chinese dub Taotie. The Taotie are an alien species originating from a green meteor that crash-landed onto Gouwu Mountain two thousand years ago. The Chinese believe the Taotie were sent from the gods to punish the Emperor for abusing his authority over the Middle Kingdom and the people. They attack northern China once every sixty years, but their leader, the Queen, has her sights set upon conquering Bianliang, the Song capital, for if the Taotie horde takes over Bianliang, then the Queen shall be able to feast upon the two million denizens of the city, and she will use her newfound fuel to give birth to and raise an army of Taotie drones with which to launch a full assault upon the entire world.
The Nameless Order is divided into five special units: the black-clad Bear Army, the blue-clad Crane Army, the red-clad Eagle Army, the yellow-clad Tiger Army, and the purple-clad Deer Army. They capture William and Tovar as they were being hunted by the Khitans, and are shocked upon seeing a Taotie's hand, as the Order believed the invasion was still weeks away. Suddenly, a wave of Taotie attack the Great Wall, and the Order responds with its own special attacks. The Eagle Army specializes in archery, and the Tiger Army in ballista and catapults launching burning rocks. Lin Mae's Crane Army consisted exclusively of female soldiers jumping off the Wall to spear Taotie climbing the Wall before being pulled back with elastic cords. The heavily armed and armoured Bear soldiers engaged in melee while the Deer Army serves as the cavalry. The Taotie were more intelligent and numerous than previously thought of, and kill many of the Nameless Order soldiers. Then, for some reason, the Queen recalls her drones, and the drones collect the bodies of fallen drones while retreating. With William and Tovar's intervention in fighting Taotie that climbed to the top of the Wall, they earn the respect of General Shao and Commander Lin. In the middle of the fight, William also saved and made acquaintance with Peng Yong, a kitchen soldier who is not skilled in fighting. Later, William and Tovar meet Sir Ballard, a European who, like them, had ventured east twenty-five years ago in search of black powder, which might be sold for a fortune back in Europe. However, like them, Ballard was also taken prisoner and has been serving as an English and Latin teacher. The three foreign mercenaries discuss plans to steal black powder from the storeroom and flee while the soldiers are occupied by battle.
The five commanders welcome William and Tovar to a feast in celebration of their assistance in repelling the Taotie. Chen, the commander of Eagle Army, challenges William to show off his archery skills using his European bow, which Chen considers to be quite decrepit compared to their Chinese bows. William shoots a wine cup in midair, causing the cup to bounce off the arrow in such a way that it lands onto two arrows that William sticks into a pillar at the last moment. This earns the admiration of the Chinese soldiers, as well as Chen. William dines with Lin, and they discuss their views on warring and soldiering. Lin Mae is an idealist and a patriot who grew up in the Nameless Order when she was very young. In the Order, she was indoctrinated in loyalty to the Emperor, devotion to the Song Dynasty, her honor as a Song citizen, her duty as a Song soldier, as well as faith (新 仁/Xīn rén) in her comrades of the Nameless Order. William is a pragmatist and a mercenary who was sold off into military service, where he fought everyone, both enemy and alleged comrade, to put food in his stomach. As he grew up, he moved on from fighting for food to fighting for money, joining the military service of many Gothic kingdoms in Europe, as well as being a Crusader, all for the purpose of supporting himself financially, as fighting was all he ever knew. Not believing that being a distrustful bounty hunter was all he was, Lin Mae tests him by challenging him to use the elastic cords of Crane Army to jump down the Wall. The cords are used by the Crane soldiers, but are operated by Tiger soldiers; this is one example of trust within the Order that Lin Mae tries to illustrate to William, but William, with his distrustful nature overruling the side of him that wants to trust Lin, firmly states to her that he's lived up to now, because he's never trusted anyone.
During the night, two drones reach the top of the Wall and kill several night watchmen. Shao and Lin lead Deer soldiers to investigate, but are ambushed. The two drones were killed, but just as the second drone was about to kill Lin, Shao spears the second drone in the brain, but not before the drone rips apart Shao's shoulder in its massive jaws. Just before Shao passes due to massive blood loss, he leaves the General's mantle and token of authority over the Nameless Order to Lin. Around this time, an envoy from the capital, arrives with an ancient scroll, which suggests that the monsters are pacified by magnets. Earlier, Strategist Wang had a theory that the reason William could kill Taotie drones so easily was due to a piece of magnetic rock he always carried in his bag, which he wore on his person the whole time he fought the drones. To test this theory, William suggests that they should capture a drone alive using harpoons laced with sedatives, just like what he saw Spanish sailors do when they go whaling. This results in his delaying his escape plans, which puts him at odds with Tovar. At the next battle, several drones are ensnared, and William slides down a chain to ensure that an ensnared drone is not freed by the other drones. Tovar delays his escape plan to assist William, much to Ballard's chagrin. The soldiers resist the drones by Bear Army death troopers fighting vertically along the Wall while tied to ropes and by the Tiger Army using spinning mechanical blades from within the Wall. As the Taotie are too numerous, Lin resorts to using black powder rockets, whose existence had been kept secret from the Westerners until now. After the battle, the captured drone is taken to the capital by the envoy, much to Wang's disapproval, though he could do nothing but reluctantly accept the envoy's decision, as he was apparently acting under direct orders from the Emperor to bring a live Taotie to Bianliang, if the Nameless Order captures one. A short while later, a hole is discovered in the base of the Great Wall, which the Taotie Queen has used as a bypass, a reflection of the Taotie's cunning and intellect; all that fighting that the Nameless Order had been doing was a distraction, while the Queen had her drones dig out a massive hole to pass through in order to lead the entirety of her horde into the Middle Kingdom. While Lin investigates, Tovar and Ballard try to escape and knock William unconscious for resisting. William is then arrested by the Chinese soldiers after they discovered the escape of Tovar and Ballard. Peng Yong pleads for William, stating that he witnessed William trying to stop Tovar and Ballard from leaving. Some distance away, Ballard betrays and abandons Tovar, but is himself captured by the Khitans, who, not knowing what the barrels of gunpowder were, accidentally ignite a barrel killing themselves and Ballard. Tovar reclaims the horses but is recaptured by the Deer Army.
Knowing that the horde is nearing the capital, Lin orders the use of an unstable technology, namely hot-air balloons, to reach the capital more quickly. Most of the balloons catch fire and many of the soldiers fall off, either receiving injury or death from falling. Before setting out for Bianliang, Lin passes word to Wang to set William free. Wang tells William to go home at once and warn the world of the coming onslaught from the Taotie horde. William decides to stay and fight and was about to board the last balloon when Peng Yong comes up to him and asks to tag along. William commends Peng Yong for being brave, unlike what everyone else sees him as. William boards the last balloon with Wang and Peng Yong, following Lin to the capital, where they find most of the city already ruined. The attack on the city happened quicker than expected because the envoy accidentally woke the subdued Taotie up during an experiment with the magnet, allowing the Taotie to communicate with the Queen for the Queen to direct the horde to the city. Wang thinks of a plan to kill the Queen Taotie by tying explosives to the captured Taotie from earlier and giving the Taotie meat to deliver to the queen. While transporting the Taotie, the troops are attacked by other Taotie above them, including Peng Yong. Peng Yong manages to save himself using a shield but is wounded. William, Lin and Wang decides to leave Peng Yong there, promising to come back for him. However, other Taotie broke through the door and Peng Yong saves them by detonating an explosive, destroying himself together with the attacking Taotie.
The three people climb a tower to shoot a black powder rocket to detonate the explosives, during which Wang is killed. Two rockets fail, but the third succeeds after William throws a magnetic stone at the queen right before the rocket hits. After the end of the millennia-long war between the Chinese Empire and the Taotie horde, Lin is promoted to General of Xibei, while William is given a choice by the Emperor of returning to the West with either the black powder he's longed for or his friend, who committed the crime of theft against the Nameless Order. He forgoes the powder to free Tovar, much to Tovar's annoyance. The two are allowed to return to Europe and a contingent of cavalry are sent to protect them. William and Lin Mae take a last look at each other, resulting in Tovar asking William if he wants to stay behind, a question to which William jokingly answers that he doesn't trust Tovar to find his way home safely. The two partners, along with the Chinese horsemen, ride away from Lin Mae into the horizon while she stares off into the very horizon the two Westerners ride into at the future that lies ahead for the whole world, a world which had been saved by a magnificent creation, an amazing feat of human construction, a wonder of the world, the Great Wall of China.